Keep safety in mind during holiday

The holidays are a time when people celebrate and have fun, but it can also be a time of some very specific dangers. The people who respond to those seasonal incidents have some advice on keeping things jolly.

There may be not a pear tree, but that Douglas fir in your living room could cause more problems than a whole flock of partridges. Steve Bair, fire director for the Centre Region Council of Governments, said that picking the right tree is important to keeping it from turning into a fire-starter.

“Make sure it’s fresh,” he said. “You want to make sure it has its needle, and keep it watered.”

Just as important? Knowing when to say goodbye to your tannenbaum. “When it’s done, it’s time to pack up the holiday.”

Lighting up the tree and other decorations can have its own dangers.

“Don’t use undersized extension cords,” said Bair, who was recently in a home for a different reason but noticed cords not capable of handling the load of the variety light-up knickknacks plugged into it, calling it an accident waiting to happen.

Just as dangerous? Cords that aren’t in good shape.

“Take the time to inspect them,” said Bair. “Make sure they aren’t frayed or broken, and don’t let them get pinched in doorways.”

That means no plugging them into an interior outlet and threading it through a doorway or window to power outdoor lights.

Maybe the most obvious way to avoid setting your house on fire this holiday is to not leave open flames around, he said. Make sure candles are burned carefully, set on appropriate containers and kept away from anything flammable. Candles in a window might be pretty, but candles near curtains or blinds can be deadly.

Bair said that Christmas dinner can be just as dangerous.

“The No. 1 source of fires in the Centre Region is from unattended cooking,” he said. It’s a particular problem around the holidays when big dinners and lots of activities can mean too much for the cook to monitor. “It’s too easy to get distracted.”

Those holiday parties can mean people ending up in the emergency room for other reasons, too. Kevin Smith, clinical supervisor at Mount Nittany Medical Center, said that food can cause problems. If you’ve got three French hens on the menu, they can’t be underdone.

“Make sure meats are cooked to temperature,” he said. And the dairy from the maids a-milking has to be kept cold enough, not left to sit out on a warm buffet table where food poisoning could become coal in someone’s stocking.

Allergies can also be a problem, he said, particularly nut allergies as home bakers make treats. Someone prone to a deadly reaction might not realize that your plain chocolate fudge was made in the same kitchen with your grandma’s famous peanut brittle recipe, so making sure that your friends and family have all the information on allergens and possible cross-contamination is important.

Sometimes it’s the things that shouldn’t ever go in someone’s mouth that bring people to the ER. Smith said that new toys and tantalizing decorations can be irresistible to little kids, posing choking hazards. Trying to swallow something dangerous isn’t the only problem. Marbles and other strange foreign objects can end up in ears, eyes, noses and other places that require medical attention to remove, so keep track of them.

For grown ups, there are other concerns.

“One of the largest things we see this time of year is falls,” said Smith. Between ice covered sidewalks and hanging boughs of holly, gravity can bring a painful end to holiday activities if people aren’t aying attention.

“Make sure you have support,” said Smith. That means knowing that your ladder is on level ground, holding onto railings going up and down those front steps, and probably not balancing on a dining room chair while you try to adjust the star on the top of the tree.

Adults also face back pain during the season, what with shoveling snow in bone-chilling weather or carrying too many things at once to avoid making multiple trips. Smith advises using common sense “and good body mechanics,” like squatting down to get a good grip and using leg muscles to help pick up a heavy load instead of bending at the waist and making back muscles do all the work.

State police have their own list of suggestions to avoid what no one wants for Christmas, a driving under the influence charge or the tragic consequences of a DUI crash.

“Plan a safe way home before attending any festivities where you will be drinking,” a state police advisory cautions. “Always designate a sober driver.”

If you don’t have a designated driver, use a taxi or other service to get home safely, and if you have friends who you believe aren’t capable of driving home, police encourage you to take their keys and help them make other arrangements.